Stop and Search: Doing More Harm Than Good?

Luke David Boswell | United Kingdom

There is currently a contentious debate over whether police powers, such as stop and search, are lacking or are too powerful in the United Kingdom. The intents and purposes of these police powers are to protect the public and enforce the rules of society. However, it emerges that those we trust with our protection may be liable for the deaths of innocents. Although these cases have become headliners raising important issues within the police force, is it fair to label the entirety of the police as liable? Or is it only the “few bad apples”?

However, these powers are subject to abuse, often times by white police officers. Cases occur where they routinely stereotype minority groups in stop and search. Evidently, this suggests that stricter regulations are necessary to control the extent of the police’s power. The idea of such regulations would be to prevent the formation of systematic racism and profiling.

Stop and Search

Stop and search is one of the police’s most scrutinized and controversial powers, due to the common occurrence of innocent people being stopped and searched. Under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, a stop and search are only permitted when the police have reasonable suspicion to do so.  Code A (paragraph 2.2), mentions that a stop and search cannot take place when solely based on personal factors. Additionally, Code A states that the stop and search must be utilized “fairly, responsibly, with respect and without unlawful discrimination”. The goal is to prevent discrimination against civilians on the basis of race, creed, age, or appearance.

Racial Issues

Despite these regulations, there are doubts that stop and search is on a tight enough leash. Out of the 300,000 stop and searches in England and Wales during the 2016/17 period, there were 4 stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, with 29 stop and searches for every 1,000 black people. This statistic shows that black people are 8 times more likely than white people to be the subject of a stop and search. Clearly, this demonstrates an inequality and perhaps a prejudice in who the police choose to stop and search.

However, statistics may be misleading alone. Due to government housing programmes, the vast majority of minority groups live in high crime and unemployment areas. This culminates a cycle of poverty, disillusionment with the authorities and subsequent crime.

No Reasonable Suspicion Necessary

There are, in fact, legal clauses for police to perform stop and search absent of reasonable suspicion. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, states that the police do not need reasonable suspicion to stop and search in designated areas. A crime occurring in a specific area and the police having limited time to secure the area and all possible suspects in it would be an example of the practical beneficial use of this clause. However, this clause could also be an excuse to unjustly target an area of a certain ethnicity.

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, states that random stop and searches in ‘the fight against terrorism’ have no need for reasonable suspicion. The majority of the abuse of stop and search has occurred under this clause. In Gillan and Quinton v UK, both of the appellants were stopped and searched near an arms fair under Section 44.

Gillan and Quinton were journalists partaking in a peaceful protest against the arms fair. It didn’t help that the police did not recover anything in this search. After this incident, the appellants bought their case to the European Court of Justice. The court held that the stop and search violated the appellant’s rights. Their ruling upheld that the search was unnecessary and Section 44 did not apply.

Where is the line?

There is a very fine line that police have to walk. Powers that are necessary for protection are also easily subject to abuse. How to ensure that police do not cross the line is a pressing issue for the United Kingdom today.

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